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Every four years, I excitedly await the winter Olympics, talking about it ad infinitum in the weeks prior. As a former figure skater during my high school years, it is my chance to watch figure skating's best compete on the world's stage. The beautiful performances, the nervous energy, and the drama bring me an enduring joy.

In fact, when my boyfriend Chris and I started dating before the winter Olympics eight years ago, I warned him that this was my sport, and if he'd want to see me during the next two weeks he would need to brush up on his figure skating knowledge. To my astonishment, he dutifully researched the competitors, learned the scoring, and watched former performances so he could cheer alongside me in appreciation.

When he started one-upping me with knoweldge on men's singles, I knew that he was a keeper.

As a snub to February's variety of winter monotony, I dusted off my skates and took them down to the nearby ice rink. With the empty rink laid out in front of me, I imagined myself as talented as Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski, as I had many times years before. On shaky ankles, I then attempted a few spins and jumps that would have embarrassed my former coach.

I may have lost most of my training over the years, but the fresh air and the feel of the ice beneath my feet felt invigorating after spending so many weeks indoors.

Though Minnesota may still be covered in snow, my food preferences are evolving away from heavy comfort foods towards brighter, fresher flavors. Blending up fruit smoothies is a quick way to reenergize standard breakfasts and mid-day snacks. To bring these bright flavors to you, I have partnered with Dole Sunshine to #SharetheSunshine by sharing this pineapple coconut smoothie bowl.

Topped with toasted coconut, banana slices, and frozen pineapple, the simple smoothie can be elevated into something special.

Frozen fruit is the key to a quick smoothie with bright, vibrant flavor. I keep a steady supply of frozen berries, pineapple, and bananas in my freezer for this purpose. This recipe uses a combination of frozen pineapple and frozen bananas to thicken the smoothie (but ice can also be used in a pinch). The addition of full-fat coconut milk lends a creamy texture and rich flavor.

While the smoothie could be poured into a glass, I prefer to enjoy this one in a bowl. The smoothie is dense enough to support a range of toppings, which takes it from a grab-and-go drink into a complete breakfast.

This Pineapple Coconut Smoothie Bowl celebrates the flavors of a piña colada in a fresh form. Frozen pineapple, banana, and coconut milk are blended together to form a thick smoothie base. Toppings like banana slices, frozen pineapple, toasted coconut, and chia seeds are layered over the top to bring additional flavor and texture. Serve for breakfast or enjoy as an afternoon snack. 

One Year Ago: Sprouted Wheat Vanilla Chai Bars
Two Years Ago: Coffee Eclairs 
Three Years Ago: Rosemary Soda Bread 
Four Years Ago: Grapefruit Rum Cocktails
Five Years Ago:  Coconut Raisin Granola, Hot Cocoa Popsicles, Chocolate Pudding, & Black Tea Cake with Honey Buttercream
Six Years Ago: Cappuccino Pancakes, Hot Cocoa Cookies, Rosemary Focaccia, Swedish Visiting Cake, & Cinnamon Sugar Muffin
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream, Cinnamon Rolls, Brown Butter Crispy Rice Bars, & Meyer Lemon Curd

Pineapple Coconut Smoothie Bowl

Yields 2 servings

Smoothie
2 ripe frozen bananas
2 cups (280 grams) Dole Frozen Tropical Gold® Pineapple Chunks
3/4 cup (180 mL) full-fat coconut milk
3/4 cup (180 mL) milk
Ice, optional

Toppings (optional)
Banana slices
Dole Frozen Tropical Gold® Pineapple Chunks
Toasted coconut flakes
Chia seeds
Granola

Place all smoothie ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Divide servings equally between two glasses or two bowls. For smoothie bowls, top with desired toppings, and serve immediately.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with Dole Sunshine. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I am incredibly excited to be working with Dole Sunshine because of the excellent quality of their frozen & preserved fruits. Thank you for supporting Pastry Affair & my wonderful sponsors!

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During late fall and winter, pears are in season. The delicate sweetness and buttery flesh of a ripe pear makes this fruit one of the fruits I look forward to most throughout the year. Since it is a struggle for me to catch pears at their peak ripeness—they are either unripe and too hard or overripe and too soft—I choose to eliminate the unpredictability by poaching the pears on the stove or roasting them in the oven. When cooked through, pears still retain all the qualities I adore in their fresh counterparts. 

While summer calls for cool and refreshing pear sorbets, winter calls for a warmer approach. This crumble unites tender pear with the warm spices of cinnamon and ginger. An aromatic hint of fresh thyme blended into the oatmeal crumble lends an unexpected, but welcome brightness. To complete the dish, a couple spoonfuls of brandy are stirred into the pear filling. The combined juices stew down in their juices at the bottom of the pan while the topping browns.

The complex flavor profile of the crumble takes familiar flavors and combines them in such a way that they feel like a new (and delicious) experience. 

This Pear Ginger Thyme Crumble is a fruit-based dessert that takes advantage of winter fruit and spices. Pears, stewed down in their juices with vanilla and brandy, are topped with a crisp crumble topping. The oatmeal topping is sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and fresh thyme. Serve the crumble hot or cold with a scoop of ice cream or spoonful of whipped cream.

Two Years Ago: Bruleed Lemon Tart & Chocolate Almond Cake (GF)
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Raspberry Tarts
FourYears Ago: Honey Oat Bread, Banana Cacao Buckwheat Muffins, & Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Five Years Ago:  Bruleed Grapefruit, Bacon & Chive Beer Bread, Pomegranate Panna Cotta, & Toasted Almond Cookies
Six Years Ago: Cheddar Dill Biscuits, S'mores Brownies, Beer Bread, Roasted Pepper Feta Scones, & Chocolate Rum Cake (GF)
Seven Years Ago: Yellow Cake, Vanilla Rum French Toast, Banana Bread Oatmeal, & Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream

Pear Ginger Thyme Crumble

Yields 6-8 servings

Pear Filling 
5-6 large (about 3 pounds/1.4 kilograms) Bosc or Bartlett pears, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon brandy, optional

Ginger Thyme Crumble
1/4 cup (57 grams) coconut oil, liquid state
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (60 grams) old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

For the pear filling, coat the peeled and diced pears with the lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and brandy, stirring until uniform. Spread evenly into a cast iron pan or a greased 9-inch pie pan. 

For the crumble, stir together the coconut oil and brown sugar, mixing until it forms a uniform paste. Stir in the flour, oats, spices, and salt until uniform. Break the crumble topping into small pieces and sprinkle crumble topping over the top of the pears.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the pears are bubbling and the crumble topping is browned. If the topping browns before the pears have finished cooking, cover the pan with aluminum foil to prevent further browning and continue cooking.

Serve warm or cold, with a side of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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As a teacher, January is a busy month. With one semester coming to an end and the second semester beginning, the workload feels like it doubles, and my intentions for the new year are put to an honest test. When I finally do get home for the evening, I sink into the couch and settle in for a night in front of the television. It turns out the tension and stress of high school finals week can be hard to shake off—even for a teacher.

As my personal history has shown, when hunger strikes during these busy times I tend to choose the easiest (and often the least healthy) option—takeout and candy bars, anyone? For this reason, I have learned to prep a few dinners and snacks in advance. With flavor and convenience in mind, I have partnered with Dole Sunshine to #SharetheSunshine by bringing you a recipe for mixed berry oatmeal bars that will add a bright spot to your busy weekdays.

During winter months, I prefer to use frozen fruit in my baking because it provides consistent quality while maintaining a bright flavor. As an added bonus, using frozen fruit avoids the process of sorting, washing, and slicing that comes with fresh fruit, which is a real timesaver when you have a busy schedule. For these mixed berry oatmeal bars, I used a variety of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, but you could customize the bars to the berries of your choosing. 

In the oven, the berries bubble down into a sweet, fruity filling. Many of the larger berries partially hold their shape, delivering pockets of bright flavor throughout. The oatmeal crust bakes up soft and chewy, which provides a texture reminiscent of cereal bars. 

After these bars finished baking, I cut them into 2-inch squares and wrapped them up individually to toss into my lunchbox for an afternoon pick-me-up. The next couple weeks may be busy for me, but I'm ready for the challenge. 

Mixed Berry Oatmeal Bars are simple to make and bring out a bright fruit flavor. An oatmeal crust—made from oats, honey, and brown sugar—forms the base of the bars. Frozen berries are spread throughout the middle, which bubble into a sweet filling in the oven. The bars bake up chewy on the edges and stay soft in the middle, making for a quick and delicious snack on a busy weekday.

One Year Ago: Baked Lemon Poppyseed Doughnuts
Two Years Ago: Cacao Hot Chocolate 
Three Years Ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins & Pear Vanilla Sorbet
FourYears Ago: Double Chocolate Brownies & Pear Chocolate Scones
Five Years Ago:  Rosemary Sandwich BreadCranberry Flax MuffinsChocolate Ginger Cookies, & Vanilla Marshmallows
Six Years Ago: Cinnamon Sugar CakeVanilla Bean PuddingSoft Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Dark Chocolate Oatmeal
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Marbled Banana BreadCranberry Wine Spritzer, & Quick Chocolate Cake

Mixed Berry Oatmeal Bars

Yields 16 servings (or 8 x 8-inch pan)

Oatmeal Bars
6 tablespoons (100 grams) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (60 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mixed Berry Filling
2 1/2 cups (12 ounces or 340 grams) Dole Frozen Mixed Berries
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

For the oatmeal base, beat together the butter and brown sugar until uniform in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the egg, honey, and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the oats, flours, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside.

For the mixed berry filling, cut down any large frozen berries to keep the fruit about the same size. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the frozen berries, sugar, and cornstarch.

Spread the berry mixture evenly over the top of the oatmeal bars. Crumble the remaining batter on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in pan before serving.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with Dole Sunshine. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I am incredibly excited to be working with Dole Sunshine because of the excellent quality of their frozen & preserved fruits. Thank you for supporting Pastry Affair & my wonderful sponsors!

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A new year, a clean slate. As I welcomed in the new year, I spent time reflecting on the last year, on where I've been and where I'd like to go. In these moments, I have a tendency to focus on my weaknesses, to identify ways I feel I've come up short to my good intentions. Despite my efforts, my lifestyle leans towards the sedentary, the house is in a constant state of needing to be picked up, and my ever-present sweet tooth continues its habit of getting me into trouble. 

This year, instead of fixating on the negative, I intend to look towards the positive, to recognize all the ways I have grown (and can continue to grow). I have no list of resolutions for the new year. Instead, I am working on cultivating a series of intentions—to find the good in stressful situations, to maintain positivity when working with other people, and to push myself to become more skilled at things that I love (like teaching, baking, and woodworking). 

Luckily, practice makes perfect. I anticipate my oven will get plenty of work as I develop and play around with new recipes.

In the past, I have been guilty of loading my banana breads with so many extras that the banana flavor can be lost or overpowered. Certainly these versions have their moments—this loaf with a chocolate hazelnut swirl makes for a lovely dessert and this chocolate cacao nib loaf is best for a morning snack—but sometimes it is worth it to tend towards the traditional. 

This recipe for Maple Banana Bread is a lighter version of the classic loaf, allowing the flavor and natural sweetness of the banana to shine. With the addition of maple syrup, the sweetness hits a subtle, but pure note. Whole wheat flour is added to bring in whole grains and the loaf is spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg to round out the flavor. As with all of my quick breads, I like to sprinkle a little raw sugar over the top for extra sweetness, giving the loaf something unique.

Maple Banana Bread is a lighter take on the traditional loaf of banana bread. Sweetened with maple syrup and gently spiced, this recipe allows the flavor of the banana to shine. A topping of cinnamon and raw sugar give the loaf additional sweetness and texture. Serve alongside a mug of coffee or tea with breakfast or an afternoon snack. 

One Year Ago: Roasted Banana Muffins
Two Years Ago: Coconut Matcha Pudding,  
Three Years Ago: Coconut Almond Quinoa 
Four Years Ago: Almond Date Banana Smoothie 
Five Years Ago:  Chocolate (Dairy-Free) Ice CreamPeanut Butter Banana Oatmeal, & Raspberry White Chocolate Scones
Six Years Ago: Peppermint Hot ChocolateGreen Tea Coconut Ice Cream, & Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes
Seven Years Ago: Banana Cinnamon MuffinsVanilla Pear MilkCranberry Chocolate Muffins, & Salted Caramels

Maple Banana Bread

Yields 5 x 9-inch loaf

Banana Bread
4 large ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 cups or 450 grams)
1/2 cup (156 grams) pure maple syrup
1/2 cup (100 grams) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour

Topping
1 tablespoon raw or demerara sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Thinly sliced banana, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together mashed banana, maple syrup, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until uniform. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually stir in the flours. Set aside.

For the topping, stir together the raw sugar and ground cinnamon. Set aside.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth until level. Sprinkle topping evenly over the top. If desired, place two pieces of thinly sliced banana on top for garnish. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a cooling rack to cool completely. 

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My family's holiday traditions have evolved throughout the years. While some traditions stay true, others have gone through revisions. Locations have changed and the guest list adapts as we welcome new faces and say goodbye to those we have loved the longest. While some changes may be bittersweet, we know the importance of gathering together to share and show our love, whether catching up over good food and conversation or stopping on each other's doorsteps for a brief hello.  

For the last few years, my family has spent Christmas close to home. On Christmas Eve, we open presents near the fireplace, as A Christmas Story plays quietly in the background. In the spirit of new holiday traditions, I wake up early on Christmas Day to bake something warm from the oven to create a new set of sweet memories. Since I fly home across state lines near Christmas Eve, I look for recipes to bake that are simple and easy to accomplish—there is no time to spend hours in the kitchen. 

This year I have partnered with Dole Sunshine to #SharetheSunshine by bringing you a holiday recipe that meets these criteria. These Raspberry Swirl Rolls give a fruity twist to the classic cinnamon roll. While a yeast dough may not appear simple at first glance, it is during a closer look. Since the dough spends the majority of time rising and baking without needing attention, there is only a half hour of active time in the preparation. Even better, the recipe can be prepped the evening before and tossed into the oven the next morning for a warm breakfast without creating a messy kitchen.

In the winter, frozen fruit can provide a superior quality in both flavor and consistency when compared to fresh fruits that are out of season or shipped in from another country. Frozen raspberries are the key to making these rolls with less mess and a more vibrant flavor. The frozen raspberries keep their shape when mixed into the filling and when rolled into the dough and sliced, which keeps the counter tops clean.

In the oven, the raspberries transform into a bubbly, gooey filling, which is brightened by the addition of orange zest. A white chocolate spread on the rolls hot from the oven makes these worthy of a second helping. 

To begin your weekend or holiday morning with warm rolls, the rolls can be assembled the night before and baked the next morning. The evening before, prepare the dough and place the sliced dough in the 9 x 13-inch pan. Wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven and set out the dough to warm and rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes, and bake the rolls as indicated. 

Alternatively, the rolls can be baked the evening before, covered with aluminum foil, and reheated in a 350 degree F oven until heated through. 

May your holiday mornings be filled with flavor, family, & cheer. Happy Holidays, dear friends.

Raspberry Swirl Rolls with White Chocolate Glaze make for a dreamy addition to your holiday brunch menu. The tartness of the raspberries is complemented by the sweetness of the white chocolate glaze and the hint of orange zest in the filling. The rolls have a soft, but chewy texture enhanced by the gooey fruit filling. Serve warm from the oven and share with dear family and friends.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Cream Pie
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Four Years Ago:  Sugar Cookies 
Five Years Ago: Candy Cane Cupcakes & Chocolate (Dairy-Free!) Ice Cream
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Clementine Cupcakes & Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Seven Years Ago: Gingerbread Cheesecake & Peppermint Ice Cream

Raspberry Swirl Rolls with White Chocolate Glaze

Yields 12 rolls

Dough
1 cup (240 mL) lukewarm milk (about 100 degrees F/38 degrees C)
1/4 cup (56 grams) butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups (420 grams) all-purpose flour

Raspberry Filling
Zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
10 ounces (283 grams) Dole Frozen Raspberries

White Chocolate Glaze
4 ounces (130 grams) white chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the dough, place lukewarm milk, melted butter, yeast, egg, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk until combined. Add flour and stir until the mixture begins to form a dough. On a lightly floured surface, place the dough and knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Alternatively, place the dough into a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead on low for 5-8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Form into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm environment until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 12 x 15-inch rectangle.

For the filling, mix together the sugar and orange zest until fragrant. Mix in the cornstarch. Gently stir in the frozen raspberries. Working quickly to prevent the raspberries from thawing, sprinkle raspberry mixture uniformly on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Starting lengthwise, roll the dough into a log shape. Trim off the ends and slice the roll into 12 evenly sized pieces. Place rolls into a parchment-lined 9 x 13-inch pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). 

Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned (internal temperature of 190 degrees F/87 degrees C). 

While the rolls are baking, stir together the melted white chocolate, heavy cream, and vanilla extract in a small bowl until smooth. Spread baked rolls with glaze using an off-set spatula while still hot. Serve warm.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with Dole Sunshine. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I am incredibly excited to be working with Dole Sunshine because of the excellent quality of their frozen & preserved fruits. Thank you for supporting Pastry Affair & my wonderful sponsors!

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This honey cookie recipe has been passed down through four generations in my family. Shared between mother and daughter, grandmother and granddaughter, and cousin to cousin, this recipe is weaved throughout our family history. The honey cookies are guests at our holiday celebrations, making their appearance when family is gathered.

Growing up, the honey cookies were served out of large vintage yellow Tupperware container, brought in from the cold garage after the evening meal. By this time, the dessert table was already full, arranged with candies and cookies of all flavors and textures on brightly colored holiday plates. Since the honey cookies were a late arrival to the party (we would have certainly spoiled our appetites if they arrived sooner), they were placed on a nearby dining room chair. It didn't matter that the cookies were cold, or that they were not presented just so—everyone knew they were the genuine star of the holiday table.

Memories of holidays past bring up images of family laughing around the table, cousins sneaking extra cookies in pockets and up sleeves, and my grandfather reminding everyone, again, how much he loved these cookies.

These honey cookies are a modest spiced cookie, no flashy sprinkles or bright colors, but it is their simplicity that makes them beautiful. The recipe for these honey cookies is traditionally of German heritage, prepared over the stove instead of in a mixer. The sugars are brought to a boil before the mixture is combined with butter, eggs, and sour cream. Once the flour is stirred in, the soft dough is chilled in the refrigerator to stiffen. The baked cookies have a unique texture—soft, yet substantial.

These honey cookies hold so much nostalgia for me. The smell brings out the savory and sweet scents of Christmas Eve dinner. The sight carries images of my late grandfather telling everyone another story, cookie in hand. The taste—well, the taste is of home.

May these cookies bring you and yours as many memories as they have given me.

These soft Honey Cookies embrace the comforting flavors of the holiday—cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and anise. The spices come together beautifully and the addition of sour cream make these cookies soft to the touch and to the taste. An anise glaze may be added for a touch more flavor and a hint more sweetness. The cookies bake up smooth, which is perfect for decorating if you choose to do so. Share these cookies with family and friends during your holiday celebrations—perhaps you'll start a new tradition. 

One Year Ago: Chocolate Cream Pie
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Four Years Ago:  Sugar Cookies 
Five Years Ago: Red Wine Chocolate Truffles & Gingerbread Cookies
Six Years Ago: Candy Cane Popcorn
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Truffles

Honey Cookies

Yields approximately 4 dozen cookies

1 cup (340 grams) honey
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon anise extract*
1/4 cup (57 grams) butter
1/4 cup (60 mL) strong black coffee
2 large eggs, whisked
1/2 cup (113 grams) sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour

In a large saucepan, bring the honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and anise extract to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn off the heat and add the butter and coffee. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before adding the eggs, sour cream, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir well. Gradually mix in the flour to form a soft dough. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, until the dough stiffens considerably.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a heavily floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 2-inch round cookies (or other shapes), re-rolling dough as needed. If you don't have a round cookie cutter, a water glass will also do the trick. Bake for 12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned and puffed. Cool completely before glazing.

Anise Glaze** 
1 cup (227 grams) powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon anise extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream, plus extra if needed

In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar, anise extract, and heavy cream. If glaze is too thick, add more cream 1 teaspoon at a time until glaze is spreadable. Spread glaze onto cookies with an offset spatula and allow cookies to rest until glaze to set before serving or storing.

* 3/4 teaspoon anise seed can be substituted for the anise extract.

**In the photographs shown above, I decorated the cookies with a royal icing flavored with anise extract, but honey cookies are traditionally spread with or dipped into the anise glaze.

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Time is fleeting during these December days. The calendar continually grows fuller, as events and errands are penciled in for the evenings and weekends. With shopping to do and friends to meet, the holiday season is passing by too quickly. After realizing earlier this week that there are only two weekends before Christmas, I panicked. How would I be able to fit in everything without being overwhelmed? I stepped back for a minute, took a deep breath, and scheduled in time for myself.

Time is one of the most precious gifts we have to share—with ourselves and others. As an introvert, I enjoy keeping my free time to myself, but I often remind myself the value of sharing time with the people I care about the most. Phone calls and coffee dates often carry more meaning than we anticipate. I'm holding onto those important moments this season.

One of my personal holiday traditions is baking and decorating holiday cookies. Each year I look forward to putting on a cheesy holiday movie marathon and spending time in the kitchen doing something I love. Though decorating may grow old after several long hours, the joy of being able to share the results is enough to keep me going. Even though I blocked out time for myself next weekend, I started the holiday baking early with these Peppermint Chocolate Cookies.

Buried in a pile of recipe drafts, I found a loved, but forgotten recipe for double chocolate chip cookies. I dressed up the cookies with a chocolate glaze and crushed candy canes. To suit your tastes, feel free to leave the chocolate chips out of the batter for less intense chocolate flavor, or add a hint of peppermint extract to the batter to boost the candy cane flavor. Either way, it's difficult to go wrong with this recipe.

Peppermint Chocolate Cookies are a seasonal delight. Double chocolate cookies are half-dipped into a rich chocolate glaze. Before the cookies set, they are sprinkled with crushed candy canes and crunchy chocolate sprinkles. For extra peppermint flavor, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the cookie batter. These cookies are perfect for cookie exchanges, holiday gatherings, or dipped into a tall glass of cold milk.

One Year Ago: Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf & Cinnamon Star Bread
Two Years Ago: Swedish Tea Ring 
Three Years Ago: Almond Espresso Cookies 
Four Years Ago:  Cranberry Upside Down Cake & Peppermint Marshmallows
Five Years Ago: Persimmon Cake, Lemon Cranberry Scones, Chocolate Pomegranate Tart, & Almond Cardamom Rolls
Six Years Ago: Pumpkin Granola Bars, Banana Cocoa Smoothie, Honey Cookies, & Peppermint Pinwheels
Seven Years Ago: Blueberry Brownies, White Chocolate Truffles, Pear Chips, & Candy-Striped Meringues

Peppermint Chocolate Cookies

Yields 2 dozen cookies

Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (130 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup (170 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
6 ounces (170 grams) semisweet chocolate chips, optional

Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces (170 grams) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup ( mL) heavy cream
Candy canes, crushed
Chocolate crunch sprinkles, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and continue beating until smooth. Gradually add the baking soda, salt, flour, and cocoa powder, mixing until uniform. Stir in the chocolate chips, if desired.

Drop dough by the tablespoon onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until set. Allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for a few minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the chocolate glaze, bring the heavy cream to a near boil in a small saucepan. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chopped chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt for 5 minutes before stirring until smooth and uniform. Set aside. 

To decorate cookies, dip half of the cookies into the chocolate glaze. Sprinkle crushed candy canes and chocolate crunch sprinkles over the chocolate. Allow cookies to rest until set before eating.

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The holiday season is right around the corner. For the past few years I have struggled to find the holiday spirit, but this year I seem to have it in an abundance. The feeling brings a comfort and ease, allowing the stresses of everyday life to fade into the background. Perhaps it is the excitement of having a new home to fill with lights and cheer, but I am grateful to have holiday baking and decorating ranking high on my priority list. 

As with most holiday family gatherings, bringing the dessert falls on my shoulders (and I am only happy to oblige). While classic pies—pumpkin, apple, and chocolate cream—are a Thanksgiving tradition, I also enjoy introducing a new dessert alongside the standard selection. In past years, the flavor combinations of chocolate and ginger and pumpkin and espresso have made appearances. For this Thanksgiving, I am planning for the flavors of pumpkin and caramel to join together with rum and raisin in this bread pudding recipe.

I first made a batch of pumpkin bread pudding seven years ago while I was living in Montreal for graduate school. A large group of us gathered in the living room of a small, one-bedroom apartment, far-flung from our families and homes, to celebrate Thanksgiving together. The meal may have been cobbled together (and each other's faces new and unfamiliar), but we enjoyed each other's company and left with full stomachs. 

The recipe I used back then was quite fussy. While it was delicious, it had too many steps and special techniques to make it approachable for a busy holiday season. For this version of pumpkin caramel bread pudding, I took the same ideas—pumpkin, caramel, and rum raisins—but simplified the recipe to a few steps without losing any of the classic flavors. 

This Pumpkin Caramel Bread Pudding is a decadent, seasonal dish to share. Brioche bread cubes are layered with rum-soaked raisins, and set into a rich, pumpkin based custard. Caramel sauce is drizzled over the top just before serving. The preparation of this bread pudding allows for some flexibility—prepare it the night before and bake the next morning, or bake it the evening before and reheat before serving. Whether for brunch or dessert, the bread pudding will be a crowd pleaser.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Gingersnap Tart
Two Years Ago: Rosemary Olive Bread & Pear Spiced Sangria
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Pie (Dairy-Free) & Glaze Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
Four Years Ago:  Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake & Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Espresso Bars, Maple Roasted Chickpeas, & Gingerbread Muffins
Six Years Ago: Banana Chocolate Muffins, Cranberry Orange Brioche, Cranberry Sauce, & Cranberry White Chocolate Tarts
Seven Years Ago: S'mores Cupcakes, Chocolate Espresso Pots de Creme, & Sugar-Coated Daydreams

Pumpkin Caramel Bread Pudding

Yields 10 to 12 servings

1/4 cup (60 mL) dark rum
1 cup (120 grams) raisins
2 cups (475 mL) half and half
1 cup (237 mL)  whole milk
15 oz. (1 1/2 cups or grams) pumpkin puree
6 large eggs
1/3 cup (105 grams) maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 loaf of brioche or challah bread (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes
Caramel sauce, for drizzling

In a small saucepan, place the rum and raisins over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat when warm. Cover and let the raisins soak for 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a blender, blend together the half and half, whole milk, pumpkin, eggs, maple syrup, spices, vanilla, and salt until uniform. Set aside.

In a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, spread half of the cubed bread over the bottom. Sprinkle half of the rum raisins evenly over the top. Repeat with remaining bread and raisins. Pour the pumpkin custard mixture (and remaining rum from the raisins) evenly over the brioche. Allow it to sit until the brioche has completely absorbed the custard, about 30 minutes or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it is puffed and set. If the bread browns quickly, cover the pan with tinfoil to prevent further browning while it finishes baking. Let cool slightly and drizzle with caramel sauce. Serve warm.

To prepare ahead of time, cover and refrigerate the baked bread pudding overnight. Then, cover with aluminum foil and rewarm in a 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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At the beginning of summer, my boyfriend and I moved into our first home. We spent the early months dwelling in near empty rooms, gaining familiarity with the space before taking paint to the walls and opening our wallets for furnishings. While the task of making a house into a home felt initially overwhelming, the choice to step back and pause for breath has made the project enjoyable.

Our house came with its own personality, including a unique blend of blonde wood trim, bronzed hardware, and ornate light fixtures. While the personality may not match our own preference for modern, we are finding a way to blend our disparate styles together. We have made design mistakes along the way—the two coats of "bunglehouse blue" paint in the office was quickly repainted with the original color in a short 24 hours, so grave was the error in judgement—but these failures have only led to a better understanding of the space where we live.   

Observing the changing of the seasons through our living room window has become my favorite part of living in our new home. Summer brought bright, hot sunlight and bold green hues. Autumn came in shades of yellow, the intense leaves fading in color and falling until only bare branches remain. While I hope winter is still weeks away, we have caught glimpses of what it may hold, with diffuse light reflecting off the snow and filling the room with a quality of light reminiscent of cloudy mornings in the rocky mountains. 

On one such morning, with soft light filling the home, I set out to create this marbled pumpkin chocolate cake. Back when I was working in a bakery, one of my favorite snacks was to pipe chocolate frosting onto the pumpkin scraps leftover from leveling the cake, sealing my love for this flavor combination. The bundt cake features pumpkin and chocolate cake marbled together, with a thick chocolate glaze as the icing on top. 

While my baked goods are typically sent to work and enjoyed by coworkers, we kept "forgetting" to bring this one with us. This cake carries the seasonal flavors beautifully.  While it is perfect for sharing with friends and family, I would understand if you want to keep this cake close to home, too. 

This Marble Pumpkin Chocolate Cake blends together fall flavors and chocolate in this bundt. Alternate spoonfuls of pumpkin and chocolate cake batter are place in a cake pan and swirled with a knife to achieve a marbled look. Once baked and cooled, the cake is covered in a rich chocolate glaze. Due to the moisture in the pumpkin, the cake stays fresh for several days. Serve alongside a cup of hot coffee or a mug of warm cocoa.

Two Years Ago: Caramel Apple Crumble Pie
Three Years Ago: Maple Syrup Cake
Four Years Ago:  Pumpkin Spiced Doughnuts & Stove-Top Popcorn
Five Years Ago: Molasses Cookies, Marbled Butternut Squash Bread, Chai Pear Scones, & Bourbon Apple Cider
Six Years Ago: Grandma's Applesauce, Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, Honey Roasted Chickpeas, & Caramel Apple Tart
Seven Years Ago: Baked Apple Chips, Homemade Apple Cider, Fresh Ginger Pear Cake, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, Fig & Balsamic Jam, Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal, & Raspberry Vanilla Creme Brulee

Marbled Pumpkin Chocolate Cake

Yields 8-10 servings

Pumpkin Batter
1 1/2 cups (370 grams) pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
3/4 cup (177 mL) vegetable oil
1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Batter
1/3 cup (28 grams) cocoa powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons strong coffee (or milk)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin batter (above)

Chocolate Glaze
6 ounces (170 grams) semisweet or milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (120 mL) heavy cream (or full-fat coconut milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease a 10-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

For the pumpkin batter, beat together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt until smooth and uniform in appearance. Set aside.

For the chocolate batter, whisk together the cocoa powder, granulated sugar, and strong coffee in a medium mixing bowl. Add in 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin batter and stir until uniform. Set aside.

In the prepared baking pan, alternate spoonfuls of pumpkin and chocolate batter. Using a knife, swirl the batter by making an "S" shape once around the pan to create a marbled texture.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes before un-molding transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the glaze, heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until steaming. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chopped chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt for 5 minutes before stirring until smooth and uniform. Allow glaze to cool until it reaches a thicker consistency.

When cake has completely cool, pour glaze evenly over the top. Serve after the glaze has fully set. 

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Out of all the seasons, the autumn kitchen is my personal favorite. With the warm weather a faded memory, the heat of the oven lends a new warmth. Time slows down as the sun falls lower in the sky and the shadows grow long. Weekend mornings are easily lost among the comforting spices and rich smells. The autumn kitchen carries an ease of relaxation. With the cold air settling in around us like a heavy blanket, there is nowhere to be but in our homes, as we watch the last of the leaves change and fall from the trees. 

With several pounds of apples packed away in the garage, the time was right to pull them out and put them to use. Apple desserts are one of my favorites—the sweet, bright flavor reminiscent of my Grandmother's applesauce recipe. Over the years, apples have taken many forms in my baking, including pies, muffins, and crisps. Instead of coming up with a new use this year, I took a page out of an old book and looked towards the past.

This recipe for Apple Pandowdy dates back to the 19th century, featuring apples, both sweetened and spiced, hidden beneath a flaky pastry crust. The name pandowdy comes from the idea that the pastry is "dowdied up" over the dessert, or, in modern terms, the pastry is cut into pieces instead of being left whole which makes the appearance look "shabby" or "disheveled." 

The pandowdy is a simple, no-fuss dessert. Due to its homespun nature, it is conventionally meant to be shared by loved ones rather than to impress guests. I chose to spend time in my autumn kitchen free-handing leaves with a knife, but the true spirit of the pandowdy leans heavily toward the simple. Cutting the pastry dough into squares and throwing it over top is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged!) here. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—the flavor will be the same no matter how you choose to pattern the pastry.

To me, the Apple Pandowdy combines the best aspects of both crisps and pies, with a heap of bright fruit and a thin layer of flaky pastry to make it feel special. 

The Apple Pandowdy is an old fashioned autumn dessert that is generous on flavor and texture. Thinly sliced apples are combined with warm spices and brown sugar for sweetness. Pie dough is "dowdied up" over the apples and sprinkled with raw sugar before baking to add additional texture. When golden and bubbly, the pandowdy is ready to come out of the oven. Serve warm with a drizzle of caramel or vanilla ice cream, or serve cold with fork straight from the refrigerator (which is especially delightful during breakfast).

One Year Ago: Maple Glazed Pumpkin Scones
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake 
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Molasses Bread, Vegan Caramel, & Rustic Apple Tart
Four Years Ago:  Classic Apple Pie, Butternut Squash Biscuits, & Apple Crisp
Five Years Ago: Apple Cinnamon Scones, Pear Crisp, Pumpkin Rolls, Butternut Squash Cake, & Baked Apples
Six Years Ago: Oatmeal Raisin Crisps, Red Wine Chocolate Cake, Pear Spice Cake, Pumpkin Latte Cheesecake, & Apple Cake
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes, Butternut Squash Custard, Pumpkin Bread Pudding, & Apple Almond Tart

Apple Pandowdy

Yields 8-10 servings

3 lbs (1.4 kg) apples, peeled, cored, & thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon boiled cider (optional)
Single Pie Crust Recipe, chilled
Egg wash (1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked)
1 tablespoons raw or demerara sugar

In a medium bowl, coat the apple slices with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add the brown sugar, flour, spices, salt and boiled cider and toss over the apples until they are evenly coated. Place into 9-inch pie pan.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the single pie dough round until 1/8-inch thick. To create a patterned top, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, use a knife to cut dough into squares, or freehand a unique design out of the dough.  Place the dough pieces over evenly over the top of the apples.

Brush the exposed dough with egg wash and sprinkle evenly with raw sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to chill.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the apples are bubbling. If the edges begin to darken too quickly, cover the pastry with aluminum foil to prevent additional browning.

Cool the pie for at least 3 hours before slicing to allow the juices to set. Drizzle each slice with 1-2 tablespoons of warm caramel sauce before serving or serve with a side of vanilla ice cream.

*To create a vegan version of the pie, use a dairy-free margarine for the butter in the crust (I prefer Earth Balance Vegan Butter), and drizzle each slice with vegan caramel sauce.

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